The Last Weekend by my Sister, Emily S. McIllwain


***Over the years, my parents and I have written about my brother, Daniel. Now it’s my sister’s turn. I’m so happy to share with you her heart and experience. Today marks 14 years without him. I cannot believe it has been that long. Oh we miss him dearly.***


Have you felt the tug of the Spirit, nudging you as only The One Who Created You could – as if a string was tied from inside your soul to an unidentified outward location? Have you heard the silent whisper of His voice, beckoning to you to go this way or that, to make one choice or the other? There was a time in my life when I was not really listening…no, I was having too much fun living for myself. But I will thank God for the rest of my days for not giving up on me, for not going silent, and for His persistence one autumn day in particular, for carrying out one very special plan.

I was in my second year of law school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and clerking for a large firm (large by Arkansas standards, anyway). I was also in a long distance relationship with my now-husband, Jonathan, and most weekends were spent traveling the hour-and-a-half distance to visit him (or vice versa) in his hometown, Russellville, Arkansas.

On that particular Friday in October, the managing partner of the firm – a.k.a. my boss – asked me to deliver a document to a town located halfway between Fayetteville and my hometown of Harrison. I had already planned a little road trip across the state for the weekend, driving to Russellville before heading to see my sister perform in a play in Jonesboro, on the east side of the state. With this new assignment, I decided instead to go through Harrison first. That is when I gave my brother a call.

Let me tell you a little bit about my big brother, Daniel Matthew Sprott. He was born on July 12, 1977, at Doctors Hospital in Little Rock, a short drive from where we lived in Brinkley. He was the firstborn in my family, and my parents were over-the-moon excited to become parents. There were no signs of problems during the pregnancy, but he suffered a skull fracture during birth and was immediately taken to a different hospital. The fracture was an early indicator of a rare medical condition.

He was a medical mystery, surviving, by his own count, “30 plus” surgeries. He could walk short distances but mostly used one crutch or his Quickie wheelchair. Doctors made surgical attempts to straighten his legs, but none significantly helped. There is a picture of the two of us after one of those surgeries; in it he is in his wheelchair, legs straight out in front of him in full casts, a big grin on his face, smiling down at me – a baby of about 6 months old – laying happily between his broken legs.

That was him: Daniel had the best attitude. I honestly cannot remember him ever complaining about the hand he was dealt. Now, do I remember him complaining about me being in his way in front of the television, or about me being an annoying little sister? Sure! But never once did I hear him play the victim.

He was always making people laugh, and people in Brinkley and then Harrison – where we moved when he was in the 4th grade – loved him, accepted him, and treated him no differently than they would anyone else. It was when we traveled out of town that I noticed a difference. Even as a young child, I can recall situations where kids would say something about “that weird looking boy”, like “what is wrong with him?” It hurt me to my core. He would smile back at the little kids who stared, oftentimes making a funny face at them to get them to relax and understand that he was not some sort of monster.

As he got older, the physical pain he endured was perhaps joined by emotional pain, as his friends started getting married, having children, advancing their careers, etc… He had a good job – working at our dad’s small law practice – and had countless friends. In fact, Daniel was the best man in several weddings and godfather of many children. Looking back, I see how he was also in a state of physical decline. Were we in denial? Were we in such a state of self-centered oblivion that we failed to even notice? Or were we to realize from the very beginning that he was an extra-special, unique gift from our God the Creator, and that each and every day we had with him was a treasure? Looking back, I know the answer.

On that gorgeous fall day in October 2006, the start of a weekend that I had high hopes for, I felt a tug, and I called my brother. He was not working that afternoon; my parents were in South Carolina under obligation of my father’s role as President of the Arkansas Bar Association. I could tell that Daniel was on the computer when he answered. I boldly told him my plan, and asked him to pack a bag and be ready for me in about an hour and a half. He was not used to taking orders from his little sister, five years his junior. (He was, in fact, used to taking orders from his other little sister, Sarah, only 13 months his junior and of a much more dominant personality-type!)

As I alluded earlier, I was not exactly listening to or living for the Lord much back then. I had just turned 23 and was completely occupied with law school and the roller-coaster ride of a long distance romance. The fact that I was even willing to drive out of my way to pick him up shows divine intervention! It could not have been anything other than the Holy Spirit that spoke through me, and when Daniel came up with a few excuses as to why he could not go, I knew I could not take no for an answer. I stood my ground and said “We are going to do this. We are going to go watch our sister perform a big role on the stage together. You are coming with me and that is that!”  He finally gave in but only after he negotiated one bribe: Before I picked him up, I must go through Kentucky Fried Chicken and get him three Chicken Snacker Sandwiches.  My goodness he was a hoot!

Thus began the weekend I will never forget.  

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I completed my simple job delivery, then drove the winding scenic road I had traveled hundreds of times – U.S. 412 – to my hometown. I obligingly drove through K.F.C. before heading to the home my family had moved into nearly twenty years prior. I found Daniel downstairs, grumbling a little but mostly in good spirits with a little bitty overnight bag he had packed, ready to go. He was a little concerned about Annabelle Lee (“Annie”), our black Labrador Retriever we had given my dad when I was in the 10th grade. My parents had left Daniel in charge of her, so his concern was valid. I was on a mission; there was only one option: “Let’s get her in the Jeep then.” We all piled into “Hogger” – my red 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee – and headed down Scenic 7 South toward Russellville.

Jonathan had only recently moved back to his hometown after graduating with his MBA from the U of A, so he happened to be living with his parents at the time. There were countless parts of this journey that I consider special, but this first stop was priceless. My future in-laws spent time with and got to know Daniel that weekend. Jonathan, who I would marry less than two years later, spent quality time with him. Here is another sweet memory I have from that night and another example of Daniel’s giant heart: my in-laws do not particularly love dogs, so Annie stayed outside in the yard in a kennel far from the house. Annie was mainly an indoor dog at this point, so Daniel stayed out there with her a long time to comfort her and make her feel safe, and loved.

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The next morning, we left Russellville for Jonesboro. That meant we would be driving through Conway. Growing up, one of my brother’s best friends was our cousin Adam. His sister Laura lives close to Conway and has a horse farm and barn animals. Daniel, in his easy-going, slow-paced way, asked if we could stop and see if she was home. He was never in a hurry to get anywhere! It exasperated us all at times, but what a great way to live! I again felt that prodding from the inside, and Instead of worrying about the clock, agreed that it was a great idea. She was delighted to see us – especially delighted to see Daniel – and even let me ride one of her beloved horses!  

While I was riding, Daniel took some pictures with his flip phone (this was one year before the iPhone took over). I remember how he smiled, watching me ride, even though it was something he was not able to do. I remember thinking about how I was being selfish; he probably was not having any fun just watching. But that was the thing that made Daniel special; he was always content, no matter the circumstances. Maybe it was because of his circumstances, but he had a mental fortitude unrivaled.  

We left our cousin’s house happy and with sun-kissed cheeks. The Tour of Daniel’s Goodbye had one final leg: Jonesboro.  

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My sister Sarah is only 13 months younger than Daniel; they were practically twins! He was always so proud of her, and then of me too when I came along four years after Sarah. She and her husband have three beautiful babies, and the youngest is Daniel’s namesake.  In October 2006, they had been married four years and had recently suffered a miscarriage. Our hearts were particularly tender toward her at that time.  

Daniel requested that we get to Jonesboro in time to get her some flowers before her play. Since neither of us knew any better – or knew the town of Jonesboro any better! – we ended up at a Walgreens. We managed to find some type of flowers there and lucky for us also some gummy worms, which we both shared an affinity for.  

By this point, I did have to rush him along a bit because it was almost time for the show to begin! Sarah had saved us two center seats on the very front row of the Forum Theater in downtown Jonesboro. Sarah was playing Shelby in Steel Magnolias! She had minored in drama in college and this was her second lead role in the community theatre.

Daniel and I were mesmerized the entire show – I remember looking over at him and I could see on his flip phone that he was texting Sarah-something about being “fallible”, which is embarrassing to admit, but I had to look up the definition later (he was always surprising me with his wit and wisdom!). She showed me later what the text had said: “Who are you and what did you do with my fallible sister?” He had also configured a rose on that text. What a sweet comment from a proud big brother. I do believe he even wiped a tear or two during the show. That is how proud he was of her.

I love the memory of us sitting on the front row of that little old theatre watching Sarah do what she loves. To this day, when I see, hear or say the word “fallible/infallible”, I think of my big brother, and how he taught it to me. He taught me so, so much.

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I love my brother-in-law, but it just so happens that he was out of town that weekend, so it was just the three of us. We had the time of our lives. We listened to music, Sarah and I danced, and the three of us talked late into the night. I remember a conversation Daniel and I had outside that night on their back deck. For some reason, I had been questioning if he still believed. Because of that conversation, I know that he is in heaven with Jesus His Savior. His, Yours, and Mine. What a gift. What a comfort that was to ponder after his death…knowing that it was not really the end. We would see him again.  

Also that night, Sarah and I – separately, without the other even knowing! – watched him sleep, which is something we would not normally do. God took our hands and led us into the room where he was sleeping, and told us to look at him, because He knew that the next time we would look at him like that, he would not wake up. That is just jaw-dropping to me still to think about, because what a crazy-stalker-strange thing to do! Who does that? And why? If not for God leading us to do it, stirring our hearts to feel the need, the impulse to do this otherwise abnormal thing, we would not have that memory of his peaceful, restful sleep. That memory of his face, his body, his hands, in restful slumber. Thank you, Lord.

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Sundays. A day of the week that looking back to my college and law school years feels dreary and sad. There are several reasons for this. Perhaps because it signified the end of the weekend and the beginning of the school week, which then meant long classes and endless quizzes, essays and exams. Perhaps because I had stayed up way too late the night before at a sorority/fraternity function. Or maybe, perhaps, because at that point in my life I was not in the joy-giving habit of Sunday-morning church-going, a habit I was raised with and knew deep down was best for my soul.

That Sunday was the dreariest of all. Not atmospherically, though I have no recollection of the weather at all that day (of course it IS a gray day when I picture it all in my mind). I dropped him off, at the home we all grew up in. The house was empty and dark because my parents would not return from their trip until the following day. I watched him get into his wheelchair down by the basement door. He turned around and waved goodbye, giving me a toothless grin before I drove off down the alley and then back to Fayetteville. I will never forget that image…and I hope I never do.

Life resumed to what was normal back then. Busy and hectic, but otherwise, we had a carefree, painless existence.

Four days later, on Thursday, October 19, 2006, my Daddy called at 8:01 a.m. to tell me that Daniel passed away in his sleep; his heart had stopped beating sometime in the night. He was 29 years old.

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It took me a few days, but the realization of how, and when, and that that trip miraculously came to be slowly encompassed my being like the hand of God holding me. With that realization came a peace to fight any doubt that may exist, of knowing that God is with us, guiding us, and that we must listen when He calls.

After fourteen years without my brother, God is still revealing the beautiful, loving ways He prepared and held us before, during, and after that weekend. God orchestrated the entire trip. He had me take Daniel on somewhat of a farewell tour, to see people who had been a big part of his past, and to see people who would mean a lot to his family in the future. He worked it out where everyone could say goodbye to him: it was one last time for every one to be blessed by him and by his good nature.

God gave me the magical gift of TIME with my brother. Time spent with him in the car, with no cell phone service, where we were forced to talk to each other, to make memories, not knowing then that we were saying goodbye. And He gave me the gift of knowing where Daniel is now, and that I will see him again, and he will have a perfect body, and be able to run and do all those things he was not able to do on earth, all of the things he had to sit and watch the rest of us do.

I thank God for nudging me to make the call, to take the trip. Even though it hurt SO MUCH to lose him that day, I know that God is with him now. And I will see my brother again.

My sister Emily ♥️
She is a wife, a stay at home mom and lawyer who has a love for reading, writing, learning and growing. A self proclaimed empath, she loves deeply and well. She is funny and fun, sincere and silly, a little klutzy but full of grace. She loves days spent with family- laughing, playing, RV-ing, or swimming. You can usually find her curled up somewhere with her nose in a book and a cat on her lap.

To Daniel My Brother (1977-2006)


Today is my brothers birthday! While he is in the most glorious place ever (Heaven) we celebrate him and miss him dearly. I’m so grateful for him and I admire my mom and dad so much as they have endured and carried on- of that he would have wanted them to.

I wish everyone had a chance to meet Daniel.

My Mom wrote this poem for Daniel on November 15, 1993. He was 16 at the time. We had many more years with him until the Lord took him Home in 2006.

Below are more blog posts to help you know him a little more!

Not much of a chance was he given when born.

His skull was fractured, his little body limp.

Oh! How I mourned!

But I could hold him, and love him.

He surprised us with a spirit so young,

Smiling and eyes full of mischief,

His world had just begun.

We helped him, and we loved him.

Through the croup, asthma, bladder and leg surgeries

He has taken it all in stride.

He is a winner, and a man.

In him we take so much pride.

You are almost grown now.

Sometimes it has been hard, and we are not done.

But we love you and admire you;

And we are proud to call you “Our son.”

Thank you for letting us hold you, and love you.

~Jan Sprott

In his own words:

In my dad’s words:

In my words:

Hymns ~ A Guest Post by my sister, Emily McIllwain

FullSizeRenderI hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

“Jesus Paid it All” (Elvina M. Hall, 1865)

I just had a very emotional heart to heart with my 3-year-old daughter (hence, the “emotional” part) regarding sin that was built up in her heart.  Amidst tears and hugs she cried out, “I don’t know how to be good! I need God to help me be good!”…Amen sister.  Don’t we all.  The words of the above hymn immediately came to my mind and lips, and she drifted off to a peaceful sleep with a song I learned in my formative years that I now need more than ever.

I frequently sing to (and with) my children.  We sing while we play, while we ride in the car, while we rock-rock, and while they close their eyes and fall asleep.  Music has always played an important role in my life.  It has always been there; something I have always loved and spent a lot of time (and my dad’s money!) invested in.  As I sing to my children, I realize the importance of those Sunday’s that my parents dragged me to church.  Don’t get me wrong- most of the time I really wanted to go, but my motive was not to praise God or to hear Him speak to me through the sermon…it was to flirt with my crush or pass notes to my friends (where to eat for lunch that day was always a hot topic that was sure to distract even the most focused of us).  All were wrong reasons to sit there on Sunday morning, but still, today, as a 32-year-old woman, I benefit from that attendance.  The music and lyrics of the hymns that we sang in our Baptist church growing up are forever etched in my heart, always sure to open up when called upon by the Spirit inside of me.

Hymns are building blocks to the rock-solid foundation of Christianity necessary to a lifetime of persevering and growing in the Lord.  ~“The Solid Rock”
(Edward Mote)

Through the melodious harmony and unapologetic worship of a hymn, ministry happens – to our own hearts, and to others as well.  Worship is not only achieved through music, of course (a concept that hadn’t occurred to me until my 20’s), but through no other venue does the Holy Spirit grab me so strongly and completely. Through no other venue can I personally worship so openly and through no other venue have I witnessed others worship so boldly.

The old classic hymns are still as popular and catchy as ever.  Through them, we are united with Christians from long ago, people who lived in very different times yet still fought the same enemy and felt the same Spirit.  The hymns remain relevant because our God Almighty remains unchanged.

“Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not.

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”

-Thomas Chisholm, 1923

This is not to say that Christian music published after the 19th century is any less developed or memorable, but isn’t it truly amazing (no pun intended!) that “Amazing Grace” by John Newton in 1779 is still the number one most popular Christian hymn, even though it is two and a half CENTURIES old?  The song is truly powerful, and so very applicable today, but I also think that the concept of memorization has a lot to do with it as well.  “Amazing Grace” is sung at many funerals, and has been remade several time since its release.  The words are etched in our minds and our subconscious, and therefore are easy to call upon when needed.

The notion of using music – specifically hymns – to teach children and adults alike has been around since the time of Moses.  In Deuteronomy chapter 31, Moses recognized the need for accurate memorization of God’s Law, and so he wrote it down and demanded that the laws be read to the entire Hebrew assembly, including the children.

To fulfill God’s purpose and will in our lives we need the content and substance of His Word in our hearts and minds…There is a place for music in Christian education, and for the building up of all believers. Some people memorize classic hymns of the church to help them think of what is true, right and good.*

In the next chapter of Deuteronomy (Chapter 32), Moses himself taught the people through a song entitled “The Song of Moses”.  I’m sure Moses was hoping the song would make the history of Israel, the warnings from their past mistakes, and their hope in the one true God easier to remember.

As I think back to the church attendance of my youth, I realize that my one-year-old and three-year-old benefit from that church attendance as well.  As I sing songs to them, I become conscious of the fast-pace of life and the urgency to cram their sweet little heads full of Jesus and His Love and not Old Mother Goose (not that there is anything wrong with Mother Goose).  No matter what trials they face in life or storms they weather, I want them to be led by His Light (“Be Thou My Vision” -Dallan Forgaill), and if led astray, to come back to Him.  I want them to remember the hymns I sang to them and to hold on to the words that will give them peace and hope amidst pain, suffering and longing like we hear in “It is Well” by Horacio Spafford.  I want them to sing hymns to their children, so that they, too, may experience the undeniable tug of the Holy Spirit through the music and lyrics of Christians over many centuries fighting the good fight together, with the never-changing Lord of All by their side (“Great is Thy Faithfulness” – Thomas Chisholm).

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting He passed, and we follow Him there; O’er us sin no more hath dominion— For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”

Helen Lemmel, 1922

*(Galvin, James C., Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Notes to the Life Application Study Bible, NASV, Updated Edition published by Zondervan, p. 326).

~Emily McIllwain is my precious younger sister.  She lives in Russellville, AR with her husband and their two daughters.  She is a licensed attorney but currently is a IMG_5271stay at home mommy, a challenge which she finds equally exhilarating and exhausting, requiring the constant need for Jesus.  She thanks God for His endless provision.

What? Me Worry? (guest post by Jim Sprott)

What? Me worry?

A strange magazine popular among young people in the early 1960’s emblazoned the picture of a toothless under-achiever named Alfred E. Newman asking this question: “What?  Me worry?”  While a far cry from any religious overtones, Mad Magazine’s hero’s lead question is one that should cross the mind of all of us who profess the name of Christ.  Am I to worry?  Am I to be afraid of the unseen future?  As Paul was apt to say in Romans, God forbid!

In fact, it was Paul who made it clear to his young friend, Timothy, that God did not give us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and a sound mind. (II Tim 1:7)  If God be with us, of whom, or what, shall we be afraid? And there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of God, which is Christ Jesus, our Lord.  (Rom. 8:38 – 39)

So what is it that causes us to fear? Often, it is criticism, what people think of us.  Sometimes, it is a crisis.  We cherish stability and don’t appreciate change.  Problems seem to result when we face the changes life on this earth naturally presents to us.  Sometimes, we fear catastrophes; we focus on bad things that might happen to us or to those we love.  Yes, it is people, problems and prospects that cause us to fear and worry.

And the effects of fear and worry are dramatic. Fear disrupts our souls; it takes away our ability to be ourselves, serving God.  It paralyzes us; God wants us to move forward and grow spiritually, but we are sometimes frozen with fear and worry.  Fear really dishonors God himself, because it ignores His sovereignty, control and promises.

So how shall we overcome fear and worry? First of all, remember whose you are.  If you are a believer, you are a child of the King, part of a Heavenly family who can call upon the very Creator of this universe!  You have a Heavenly Father who loves you, wants the very best for you and can always accomplish what is truly needed in your life.  Will our life always be pleasant and our path free of pain and problems?  Absolutely not!  This is a fallen world, Satan and his evil are all around us; sickness and death will come to us and, even worse, to those we love dearly.  But God is in control, and He loves even me!

David is often the best example of a man who lived in this fallen world and experienced the pain it causes through his experiences and failings, and yet he kept his reliance on God and God’s love for him. In Psalm 56:3 – 4, David wrote “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.  In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do to me.”  Notice he says “What time I fear,” meaning, “When I fear.”  In other words, fear will come, even as it did to this giant in the faith.  The question David faces when it comes, as we too face when it comes, is whether we will allow it to disrupt us or paralyze us and thus dishonor God.

Absolutely not, says David. Instead, he will praise His word.  In other words, David will get into God’s word.  He will dust off his copy of the scriptures and praise God through delving deeply into His word.  In God he will put his trust, and he will not fear what this world (flesh, in the verse) can do to him.  He will not fear the evil of sin; he will not fear the pain of the death of a son; he will not fear social and physical enemies all around him.  Like David, in times when fear and worry come, we must put our trust in the God who loves us, the God who promises never to leave us.

Not only should we remember whose we are, when facing fear, but we should remember how we are made. We are made in the likeness of God himself.  We have been given authority here on earth.  We should remember what we have been given; take the focus off whatever is causing us worry and fear and put our focus on the blessings we have been given by God.  The old gospel song “Count Your Blessings” is not just a ditty, it is a spiritual truth.  We can avoid worry and fear as we focus on the blessings we have been given, counting them “one by one.”

No, God has not given us a spirit to accept fear and worry, but one of power, love and discipline. The power to act boldly with the authority we are given to approach even the very throne of God himself.  If we have the authority to approach the very Creator of the universe, (and we do), what in this world can bother us?  We certainly will experience pain, such as the loss of someone we love, but we must not be worry about such prospects in the future.

Love itself casts out fear. If we focus, through love, on others instead of ourselves and the problem causing us worry, the problem will fade as we express love to others through our actions.  Is something worrying you?  Get up and go help someone less fortunate than you, consider their situation and act to remedy it.  Our problems will fade in comparison when we get outside ourselves and serve others.

We have the Spirit to become disciplined in our approach to this fallen world, a sound mind producing sober thoughts, an understanding of God’s will and purpose in this world, all leading to freedom from fear and worry.

So let’s consider the same question posed decades ago by Alfred E. Newman and Mad Magazine: “What?  Me worry?”  With our loving God’s help, we believers can give a resounding “NO” to that question.